The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVIII. The Drama, 1860–1918

§ 17. Clyde Fitch

He has not the distinct literary flavour of Clyde Fitch; his stories are not so warmly human, his characters not so finished. Fitch (1865–1909) was as independent of the manager as Thomas, but he nearly always constructed his plays with a “star” in mind. He helped to increase the popularity of Julia Marlowe with Barbara Frietchie (24 October, 1899), Nat Goodwin with Nathan Hale (2 January, 1899), Mansfield with Beau Brummell (17 May, 1890), Maxine Elliott with Her Great Match(4 September, 1905), and Clara Bloodgood with The Truth (7 January, 1907) and The Girl with the Green Eyes (25 December, 1902). That is the superficial classification of Fitch. But there was a deeper sensitiveness and feeling in what he wrote. His appreciation of small details was a constant source of entertainment in his dramas; they rushed upon us with brilliant and rapid succession. To see a Fitch play was to become impressed with his facility in dialogue and ease of invention. But the fact is, Fitch’s pen moved rapidly merely because he had pondered the plot, incident, and actual dialogue long before the transcribing began. And when he did write, it was a process of setting down from memory. For three years he studied over the psychology and situation of what he called his “jealousy” play, before he began The Girl with the Green Eyes.

Fitch, like Thomas, could do work for the commercial manager; and soon they both gained positions of confidence which allowed them to lead rather than be led. The mere fact that their dramas are readable measures something of their literary value. Thomas has always shown the limitation of not too clear thinking; Fitch often obtruded his smartness in places where sound characterization was needed. One noted this in a favourite piece of his, A Happy Marriage (12 April, 1909). But those who regarded Fitch’s contribution to American drama as largely picturesque sentimentality, as in Lovers’ Lane (6 February, 1901), The Stubbornness of Geraldine (3 November, 1902), and Granny (24 October, 1904); those who depreciate him by saying he spent his time flippantly in converting German farce to American taste, as in The Blue Mouse (30 November, 1908), should recall two of his dramas which compare favourably with the best of modern psychological pieces—The Truth and The Girl with the Green Eyes. He tried every form of comedy and farce; and while many of his stories, as plots, were slight and unworthy of him, he brought to the task always a radiant spirit which gave his dramas a distinctive tone. He could write melodrama too; The Woman in the Case (30 January, 1905) won recognition on the Continent. He could, through sheer strength of situation and fearlessness of attack, create something of the tragic, as in The City (22 December, 1909), written largely to refute the charge that he was solely a dramatist of the feminine. There was some of the bric-à-brac quality about Fitch. He caught the volatile in American life,—more especially in New York life,—and it is this quality which keeps so many of his plays still alive and fresh.